Before we conclude our columns on Constructive Criticism and move on to other topics, I would like to leave you with a powerful metaphor about effective tochacha and an unforgettable story from my great rebbi.
WARM THE NOVOCAIN
The renowned author and lecturer, Rabbi Avi Shulman, recently delivered an in-service workshop titled “Effective Classroom Discipline” to the rebbeim of Yeshiva Darchei Noam, where I serve as Menahel.
During his presentation, he vividly described how impressed he was by the sensitivity of his dentist. When Rabbi Shulman was getting a cavity filled, he was informed by his dentist that a shot of Novocain would be given to him to dull the pain of the ‘drilling and filling.’ Rabbi Shulman related how he watched with interest as his dentist held the vial of Novocain with both his hands for a few moments before injecting it into Rabbi Shulman’s mouth. He explained to Rabbi Shulman that in addition to the sting of the shot, patients are often discomforted by the room-temperature Novocain injected in their 98.6 degree body. He therefore warms the Novocain in his hands before injecting it into his patients.
What a powerful message to educators and parents! We have a sacred obligation to guide and direct our children. At the same time, we must keep in mind the importance of projecting warmth and protecting the dignity of our children when we deliver these important messages. Warm the Novocain; warm the Novocain!
SOME FINAL THOUGHTS
In closing, I would like to share with my readers portions of an article that I wrote about Rabbi Avrohom Pam zt’l shortly after his passing several years ago.
Our great and humble rebbi taught three generations of talmidim how to deliver tochacha with darchei noam (pleasantness) – by his personal example of middos and derech eretz.
A LIFETIME OF TEACHING MIDDOS BY EXAMPLE
When reflecting upon the life of our great rebbi, Hagaon Horav Pam z’tl, the encounter of Eliyahu Ha’Navi with the Ribbono Shel Olam (Melachim1:19) comes to mind.
The Navi relates how Eliyahu stood by a mountain and waited for the presence of Hashem to appear. A great, powerful wind blew by him, followed by an earthquake (ra’ash), and then a fire. The Navi mentions that these cataclysmic forces were merely the precursor of Hashem’s presence. And then Hashem appeared to Eliyahu in a “kol demamah dakah – a still, soft sound.”
Our rebbi’s manner of teaching and guiding us was always one of a Kol Demamah Dakah – but the power and passion of his eloquent, soft-spoken words and the indelible impression of observing his refined character still resound in our ears and hearts.
Perhaps my most everlasting impression of Rav Pam z’tl was the time some 25 years ago, when he walked into the Beis HaMedrosh for shachris. A 10-year-old child had inadvertently taken our rebbi’s seat, which was in middle of the shul, not at the ‘mizrach wall’ (a position of honor at the front of the synagogue). As Rav Pam entered, wearing his talis and tefilin, several young men went over to the child to remove him from their rebbi’s seat. Too late. Rav Pam called the boy back. He moved his talis bag to one side of the table and shared his two-person shtender with the ten-year-old child. This was the chinuch that we received from our rebbi. No ra’ash, no aish, only the kol demamah dakah of kovod haTorah and kavod habriyos.
Before my first speech on the topic of at-risk teens (at the Torah Umesorah Convention nearly nine years ago), I visited Rav Pam, and asked him for his insights and guidance. He was silent for several moments. Then he told me a story. A sixty-five-year-old man had recently approached him at a wedding and thanked him for treating him with dignity and respect when he was a teenager in Yeshiva Torah Vodaas more than 5 decades ago. Rav Pam was proctoring an examination, and he observed this young man reading someone else’s paper during the test. Fully expecting to have his paper confiscated for ‘cheating’ and to be sent out of the room, this young man was startled when Rav Pam leaned over to him and whispered, “If you are having trouble reading a question, please ask me for help. I will be more than glad to read it for you”. (This story is all the more remarkable when taking in consideration Rav Pam’s lifelong abhorrence for all things dishonest.) My rebbi informed me that the middle-aged man told him that he was struggling in yeshiva at that time, and Rav Pam’s trust in him was a turning point in his life. With tears in his eyes, Rav Pam said, “Reb Yakov, imagine how things might have turned out if I had reacted more severely?”
Rebbi offered his original explanation as to the reason that our sages compared educators to stars. He said that the light of the stars does not reach us on Earth until several years after it was emitted. He encouraged us to remember that we should not become frustrated when we put our love and devotion into our talmidim and talmidos – and don’t see instant results. With the passage of time, the light we now shine upon them will illuminate their lives.
© 2004 Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, all rights reserved
Rabbi Yakov Horowitz is the founder and Menahel of Yeshiva Darchei Noam of Monsey, and the founder and Program Director of AgudathIsrael’s Project Y.E.S.
He is a popular lecturer on chinuch and parenting topics in communities across the world, and is the author of several best-selling parenting tape sets. For more information on Rabbi Horowitz’s published articles, tapes, or to schedule a speaking engagement in your community, please visit www.rabbihorowitz.com
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